May 3, 2017

Canadian polygamist claims religious liberty

Trent Nelson / AP

With President Trump expected to sign a controversial order on religious liberty, Canada is facing a religious freedom controversy of its own.

The case: Winston Blackmore is part of a community called "Bountiful," an offshoot of Mormonism that allows polygamy. He has married or had conjugal relations with 24 women, and had 145 children. He and his former brother-in-law face up to 5 years in prison on polygamy charges. Their case is before the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

The defense: Blackmore's lawyer argues that his religious freedom is being infringed on, and points out that other forms of "non-traditional" marriage are now legal. He notes that if Blackmore had children with different women without a marriage ceremony there wouldn't be a problem.

Some facts: 58 countries — most of them majority-Muslim — allow polygamy. The practice is criminalized in all western countries, and outlawed in all 50 states.

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The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a high-profile case that could reshape the bounds of First Amendment protections for religion.

Why it matters: The direct question in this case is whether Philadelphia had the right to cancel a contract with an adoption agency that refused to place foster children with same-sex couples. It also poses bigger questions that could lead the court to overturn a key precedent and carve out new protections for religious organizations.

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